BOSTON -- Five days until the trade deadline, and pieces keep falling into place for the Red Sox. The offense is roaring like a tsunami. The starters are finally providing innings. The bullpen suddenly doesn't resemble the walking dead.
Only one piece remains, and if Dave Dombrowski can acquire it between now and Wednesday, we might suddenly be talking about a legitimate run back to the World Series.
Stop messing around, Dave. Go get a closer. We know just the one.
It's pretty clear that guy is not going to be Nathan Eovaldi, who has made two appearances since spending 96 days on the injured list. He feels like he's in the spring training portion of his return, and if you want to bet on him suddenly finding the groove, may I remind you of Tyler Thornburg, whose hot week before last year's deadline convinced Dombrowski that the bullpen wasn't a priority, with nearly disastrous results.
That guy also isn't Brandon Workman, the team's best reliever. He's an ideal setup man who doesn't give up hits, but occasionally walks the park and owns exactly five lifetime saves. Same goes for Matt Barnes, a matchup weapon when he's not being pitched into the ground. After making 15 appearances in June and posting an ERA of nearly 10.00, Barnes has yet to allow a run over a more manageable eight appearances in July. Funny how that works.
No, the piece the Red Sox need resides outside the organization, and his name is Kirby Yates.
The Padres right-hander will not come cheap. The NL saves leader has very quietly posted numbers on par with any reliever in the game over the last two seasons, despite featuring an atypical closer's arsenal that relies primarily on a split-fingered fastball, a la Koji Uehara.
Since the start of last season, Yates is 5-5 with a 1.70 ERA, 43 saves, and 160 strikeouts in 106 innings. He has taken his game to another level in 2019, posting a 1.05 ERA and striking out 14.7 per nine while posting 31 saves.
Yates would fix problems in ways that someone like, say, Toronto's shaky Ken Giles or Detroit's Shane Greene (whose underlying numbers aren't as strong as his 1.22 ERA) would not.
As July draws to a close, the Red Sox are finally showing us what we expected to see all year. One night after blasting Yankees pitching for 19 runs, they scored 10 more on Friday, with Mookie Betts delivering the fifth three-homer game of his career.
Meanwhile, newly acquired Andrew Cashner earned his first win in a Red Sox uniform by pitching into the seventh. His overall Boston numbers aren't stellar, but Red Sox fifth starters were averaging three innings a start before he arrived, and he has already given them 17.2 innings in his three turns. That may not sound like much, but he has basically saved the bullpen nine innings.
And speaking of the bullpen, manager Alex Cora finally feels like he has some options, between Workman, Barnes, Eovaldi, Heath Hembree, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden, and Darwinzon Hernandez. Half those names still make me grimace, and before we let our guards down for even a second, please note that Cora was forced to summon Workman to close out a six-run game because Hembree failed to record an out in the ninth on Friday.
Yates would change that managerial calculus considerably. Imagine Barnes, Workman, and Eovaldi handling the seventh and eighth, a Hunger Games-style tournament among the rest of the flotsam to determine the sixth, and then maybe somebody like the flame-throwing Hernandez as a long man.
That sounds like a bullpen that could make a respectable showing in October, but now comes the hard part -- the cost.
With San Diego sliding out of playoff contention, Yates may end up being the best reliever traded, and plenty of teams could use him, whether it's the Twins, Dodgers, Rays, or Nationals.
While many have cited the returns the Yankees received for Aroldis Chapman (headlined by Gleyber Torres) and Andrew Miller (Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield) in 2016, it's unrealistic to think a team will part with similar cost-controlled talent today for a 32-year-old like Yates. A lot can change in three years, and teams value prospects even more now than they did then.
The Red Sox are thin in the upper levels of their minor leagues, but they do possess a youngster with power potential and positional versatility in Michael Chavis, and the Padres could use a second baseman. San Diego would undoubtedly want outfielder Andrew Benintendi (which is too much to surrender), but if the Red Sox want to swing a deal, they have the pieces to get it done, provided they're willing to consider prospects like last year's first-rounder, Triston Casas, who has already hit an impressive 17 homers at Single-A Greenville, or fleet Futures Game outfielder Jarren Duran, who's hitting nearly .320 between two levels. Hernandez's power arm could intrigue, too.
Yates spoke with NBC Sports Boston at the All-Star Game about trade rumors, the composition of a bullpen, and his near-miss with the Red Sox after they drafted him in 2005.
He'd right their most glaring wrong, and based on all of the other pieces that are finally clicking -- Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Betts coming alive, Chris Sale looking like his old self, the wins starting to pile up at home -- he might be the missing link.
Now it's up to Dave Dombrowski to find a way to get him.
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